Under-20 World Cup

Monday Morning Centerback: On the US Under-20s, SBI's MLS MVP vote and more

MixDiskerud (ISIphotos.com) 

                                                                              Photo by ISIphotos.com

It was an ugly loss, but one you came away feeling didn't have to happen.

The U.S. Under-20 national team's 3-0 loss to Germany was never really competitive, at least in the sense that the Americans never did look like a team capable of threatening. The Germans were organized and efficient, but hardly a team who looked intent on dominating. No, it was the United States which helped Germany post such a resounding result, with its combination of defensive lapses, unforced turnovers and lack of organization.

While you can always blame the struggles of a youth team, at least in part, on jitters or even just a bad game, but Saturday's match stood out because of head coach Thomas Rongen's decision to employ a 4-3-3 formation and bench several U-20 regulars in favor of some untested players.

Brian Ownby and Dillon Powers hadn't been regulars on the U-20 side, and neither was a starter in the qualifying tournament, but both earned starts vs. Germany and each played a part in the loss getting out of hand.

It was Ownby who was beaten on a run from midfield, only to compound the error by committing a foul with a clumsy tackle in the penalty area. And it was Powers who lost his mark on a corner kick, thus giving German captain Florian Jungwirth a clear look to bury Germany's third goal.

It is easy to blame Ownby and Powers for their mistakes, but they were simply two young and inexperienced players thrust onto an international stage against a tough opponent. The blame should fall to Rongen, who passed on players such as Dilly Duka, Bryan Arguez and Peri Marosevic in favor of players he decided were in better form.

Yes, injuries played a part in Rongen's decisions, and a reason why Chivas USA's Gerson Mayen went from not even on the team to starting at right back, but the struggles of the defense were attributable, at least in part, to the struggles of a midfield Rongen constructed.

It shouldn't be assumed that a different U.S. lineup beats Germany, and Rongen knows more than most about the form and fitness of his players, but when a coach plays new players over more established players in a major tournament, and his team loses, blame will follow.

Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered what American midfield played on Saturday, the Germans are a strong team even without the handful of stars it was unable to field for the Under-20 World Cup, but while a loss may have been inevitable, a 3-0 loss dents the U.S. chances of being one of the third-place teams to progress to the knockout rounds.

This team can't really think that far ahead. A match against a tough Cameroon team awaits on Tuesday, and Rongen will be left with little choice but to play the players that got the team to Egypt, because the players he thought were on top form clearly aren't.


Some more thoughts on USA-Germany:

The third goal started on a counterattack but if you want to place specific blame you can point to Gale Agbossoumonde, who floated back during the counter and found no man to mark. While that, in itself, isn't a crime, he wound up dropping back far enough to keep Manuel Schaeffler on-side as he made a run from the far flank. The initial replay made it look as though Schaeffler was Ike Opara's responsibility, but further inspection shows that Opara was marking Richard Sukuta-Pasowhen Schaeffler came streaking in from behind for Germany's third goal.

Mikkel Diskerud is skillful and has good ideas, but he needs to be partnered in central midfield with players who can do the heavy lifting and win the possession battle. A central midfield trio of Diskerud, Arguez and Duka to go with Jared Jeffrey would have been a better bet against Germany and is a group we should see vs. Cameroon.

Other bright spots? Jared Jeffrey and Tony Taylor showed glimpses, as did Brek Shea, who was extremely active, even if he did get caught up in trying to beat double-teams at times.

Causes for concern? I'm not convinced Agbossoumonde is a centerback. He's a much more capable fullback. If Kyle Daviesis healthy, he should probably get the nod in central defense alongside Opara, who I thought did well despite some questionable foul calls against him early on.


On to MLS, where Shalrie Josephhas all but locked up SBI's vote for MLS MVP. Yes, there are players who have scored more goals and delivered more assists, but this year Joseph has had a season where his MVP candidacy must finally be taken seriously.

Earlier in the season, when injuries had ravaged New England's forward crop, Joseph stepped in and played forward, scoring goals and setting up teammates. Since moving back into central midfield, Joseph has returned to his dominating self, but he has continued to find the net. He scored game-winning goals against Seattle twice in a five-month span and has also kept the assists coming. After his two-goal effort in New England's 2-1 comeback win vs. Seattle, Joseph now has eight goals and eight assists.

If you want to know how important Joseph is to New England, consider this. The Revs have lost just one match since he returned from a knee injury in mid-July in matches where Joseph plays more than 25 minutes (6-1-2). The two matches missing from that equation were a loss to KC (where he received a highly-questionable red card early in the first half) and to Chivas USA (with Joseph serving his suspension.

There are plenty of candidates for MVP, including Omar Cummings, Stuart Holden, Dwayne DeRosario, Fredy Montero, Zach Thornton and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but right now our vote goes to Joseph, who is a candidate every year but has made perhaps his strongest case this season.


San Jose's 2-1 victory against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Sunday snapped a 20-match regular season road win-less streak. The Earthquakes hadn't won on the road in 477 days. That is the second longest such streak. The longest? The Red Bulls' current 25-match regular season road win-less streak. The Red Bulls travel to San Jose this weekend.


What did you think of the U.S. Under-20 team's performance on Saturday? Think some lineup changes can help the Americans beat Cameroon? Agree with our pick of Shalrie Joseph for MVP? Think the Red Bulls will win a road game this year?

Share your thoughts below.

  • KCB


    Joseph for MVP might be deserving of it’s own post.

    The guy is a machine in the middle and New England’s record, as you point out, extremely favors the Revs when Joseph is on the pitch, no matter what position he is playing. I’d almost (almost) compare his importance to Messi for Barcelona. If Theirry/ibrahimovic goes down (aka Twellman) you still have the Messi Magic running the show and possession and goals will come. But without him, the whole dynamic of the midfield changes. Sharlie is that man for New England.

    Forget stats, Joseph’s importance to New England is what makes him an MVP.

    If stats decided who gets MVP, do we need to start talking about Jeff Cunningham for MVP?


  • MVK

    I like Joseph for MVP, they guy is a complete player, I dislike his team quite a bit but its always to treat to see him play


  • amanda

    “Yes, bad teams on bad streaks you are welcome. – signed washington DC sports teams.” Posted by: Jake

    “Red Bull break the streak this weekend. Count on it.” Posted by: David

    @ Jake, Quakes are 3-2-2 since the allstar break- not a bad streak, though i can’t argue with the bad team part.

    Posted by: WK, San Jose

    WK — you do realize that San Jose hadn’t won on the road for over a year, right?


  • jig


    hahahaha, danny cruz? are you kidding me? have you ever seen him play? he’s a good athlete, but a shocking soccer player.


  • Wolfgang Depner

    Can we give SBI a break, please? SBI’s assessment of the game against Germany was pretty spot on. Germany (which thanks to history has a head-start on developing youth players) did not dominate the game. If the US team had played a tighter game, they could have come away with a tie. This forum also has an unfortunate tendency to dramatize successes and failures beyond their actual magnitude. So please, some perspective would be appreciated.


  • manutd13

    We looked 2nd rate trying to qualify for the U20 WC in TnT. There’s very little creativity and efficiency to our game and it showed when we were trying to qualify. Cross after cross and hoping for set play. Other than that our success was more down to athleticism during that tournament than actual ability. How Ronegen stays in any capacity at the USSF amazes me.


  • Leonardo

    Montero for MVP!

    12 Goals. 6 Assists. and he ain’t done yet!

    w/o him Seattle would have no finishing whatsoever. He is an executioner. just ask Josh Wicks. heh. He’s lethal from any part of the field (as Matt Reis just learned). No one can argue he has an incredible shot.

    And he’s just 22 years old.


  • JP

    Incidentally, the CONCACAF Champion, Costa Rica, did not look to bad against he Brazilians.

    One could argue that when you get thumped 5-0, you’re terrible. However, if you watch that match (not just the highlights), you will see that Costa Rica had good ball movement and created several good scoring opportunities.

    The main difference is that Brazil knew how to put the game away with the chances it had.

    That is a sign of soccer maturity…


  • David

    I’m glad that you’ve called out Rongen. The U-20s looked lost.

    And, I refuse to believe that those are the best U-20 players in the US. I’ve played against better teenagers in Mexican adult leagues in Phoenix.


  • jig

    I love how US fans blame the coaches, or even more laughably the USSF, when they see a lack of creativity or the inability of our players to maintain possesion.

    Have you ever taken a step back and looked at the players that actually make up our roster? Let me do it for you. This current u-20 team is made up of college players (no surprise they can’t stand up to the pressure in a tournament where they are forced to play against pros), and other guys who either A.Ride the bench in MLS or B. Aren’t good enough to even touch the bench in Europe.

    Now, Rongen gets these guys for how many days out of the year? Why would you point the blame at him when its the players that clearly aren’t up to snuff?

    Who’s our best player? Jared Jeffrey? He’s made the bench for Club Brugge how many times? Once? Twice? And we are expected to play a team like Germany, with players who have all for the most part featured consistently in some type of first division European atmosphere? You can’t blame the coach for that.

    Who is to blame? Millions of other people besides Rongen and the USSF. The whole system is F****d. By the time Rongen gets these players at the u-20 level, they’re already ruined by the coaches at the u-8, u-9 and u-10 levels who place a much greater emphasis on results than technical development.

    Look. Bottom line, we suck. The whole country. Anyone who thinks we can consistently “out play”–not out run, out jump or out benchpress–the elite soccer nations is out of their gourd. Take the blinders off everyone, we haven’t ever had a legit generation of players in the 70+ years soccer has been around in this country, we still don’t have one, and judging by the comedy that was on show on Saturday, we won’t for at least the next 2-3 years, and that’s if we’re lucky and somehow a switch magically got flipped that we don’t know about. I’m not betting on it.

    In the meantime, just know that there are literally hundreds of reasons why we got beat down on Saturday. Rongen’s decision to start Brian Ownby is just one of them.


  • green

    “Green, you sound like an arrogant jerk to be honest. We all saw Germany beat us, but I can’t say I was all that impressed with them. I personally think that a US team with a healthy Anthony Wallace and Sheanon Williams, and Duka and ARguez instead of Powers and Ownby, has a much better game. Heck, Germany didn’t even do much for the first 30 minutes of the second half. You act like they destroyed us with amazing soccer.”

    Awww, I’m so sorry, did I hurt your feelings?

    All I was getting at was no matter how you spin it, we were outclassed. It was a game that could have quite possibly been over after 20 minutes had the Germans finished their early chances. Whether you were impressed or not really doesn’t matter. If people want to think “what if so and so had played” and think it would have been different, ok, I understand. It’s a little naive to me to think such, but that’s their opinion.

    I’m also a little old school in that you don’t make excuses as for why you lost, it’s a little disrespectful to the other 11 guys across the field from you that were better for 90 minutes. How do you like it when we beat Mexico and they turn to the excuses instead of saying “congratulations, job well done?” I’ll say it, it bugs the (crap) out of me, so I don’t really take to that approach after a loss.

    Here’s to a rebound game against Cameroon.

    (SBI-It’s never been about making excuses, but about being rightfully perplexed by a coach who didn’t go with his proven players (whether you agree that they’re proven or not) and instead went with some novices who happened to be more fit. It’s not a “We would have won if these guys played” thing as much as a “Our coach gave us even less of a chance to win that we might have had with our established players” thing. Not sure why you can’t get that. You seem to be unable to tell the difference between people delusional enough to think the USA beats Germany with different players (of which I’ve seen none here) and people who are just upset at having fielded a team that included players who were questionable inclusions before the match and clearly awful inclusions after the match.)


  • Austin

    joe b, rongen was there b4 bradley was even put in charge of us team

    jig, players under the age of 20 are minors and should not be bamboosled after only one loss when they didnt lose any in qualifying

    on top of that, your missing the point…..RONGEN DIDNT START THE RIGHT PLAYERS, thats why he is being blamed, he didnt start duka, marosevic, or arguez and started players like powers and ownby who dont deserve to even be on this squad ….we dont have wallace, sam and greg garza, freddy adu, vincenzo bernardo, and jozy altidore at this tournament so we dont have our best out there and we do not suck at bringing talent through the younger ages

    rongen was responsible for this loss, quarter final finish in 2007, freddy adu horrible form(i believe), and neven subotic switching nationalities…..you dont know what your talking about man

    P.S. cruz would have been WAY better than ownby


  • Scott A

    Green, I think you’re grouping together two different things. People get annoyed and feel disrespected when a team draws attention to factors outside of the control of both team’s players and management staff (like ref decisions and field conditions). However, criticizing decisions of coaches or play of players’, and recognizing that if these things were different, the result might have been better, is not the same. It’s not saying that another team didn’t beat you if you point out what you did wrong. It’s just trying to improve


  • Mike Caramba


    Not everything can be blamed on Rongen, but some things certainly can. He’s shown an obvious preference for college players over our kids training with professional clubs. Last U-20 World Cup, he subbed Dax McCarty around the 60th minute of (almost?) every game. Games with completely different circumstances, against very different opponents. He manages the game the same way most people manage FIFA or Football Manager. He has a pretty bad habit of waiting too long to make offensive substitutions when we’re losing, usually favoring position-for-position switches. Plus, let’s not forget his bad track record. With the exception of his first season wiht the Mutiny (when he was gifted one of the most talented teams in the league), he has bombed everywhere he’s gone. So what do we do with him? We put him in charge of our youth! I’m not suggesting changing out Rongen will fix all of our woes, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction (assuming we hire a competent replacement).

    One side point–which of Germany’s players are seeing first-team minutes at top-flight clubs?


  • jig

    @ Mike Caramba,

    Sebastian Jung has featured several times for Eintracht Frankfurt so far this season, Patrick Funk has been a fixture with the Stuttgart reserves, Lars Bender has been fantastic for 1860 munich the past two seasons and earned a transfer to Leverkusen as a result, same goes for Sven Bender who is now with DOrtmund. Semih Aydilek has featured for Kayserispor in the Turkish Super Lig this year, Lewis Holtby scored 8 goals for Alemannia Aachen last season (8 goals! If an American scored that many for a second division German club people would be screaming for caps with the full team! Oh, wait. Kenny Cooper. Forgot.) and has subsequently been transferred to Schalke.

    As for your Dax McCarty point, I defy you to explain once instance when his entrance into one of the 2007 WC matches was inappropriate/misguided. If you don’t remember correctly, Dax was one of the smartest and most consistent players on that team and performed admirably not only in central midfield keeping the ball when we had the lead, but also filling in at left back when Wallace was sent off against Uruguay.

    I guess we will agree to disagree about Rongen, but I’m gonna go ahead and assume he has much more sense of who to sub and when to sub them than the average idiot sitting at home posting comments on Soccer By Ives, playing FIFA and eating potato chips. I’m not saying that’s you, necessarily. I sure hope it isn’t.

    As for our boy Austin who can’t quite put coherent thoughts on paper, let me respond to you. I would love to address your point on players under the age of 20 being minors and being bamboozled and such, but for the life of me I can’t quite understand what you’re getting at. Please clarify.

    While I agree that Powers and Ownby were certainly naive choices on the part of Rongen, let’s be honest with ourselves. We would have gotten pumped by Germany even if all those dudes were playing that you mentioned. Please stop mentioning Bernardo as he doesnt even have a club to play for and has never once provided any concrete evidence that he’s actually worth a damn on the field.

    Finally, Austin, to say Rongen was responsible for the loss against Germany is laughable. Not one person on this entire thread will agree with you that had Rongen not been coaching, we would have gotten something from the match.

    He was responsible for the US getting to the quarterfinals in 2007? The one where we beat Brazil when it actually meant something? That was good, right? I mean, whens the last time a mens national team has gotten to the quarterfinals of a major tournament. Please name them for me and then tell me you weren’t please with how those tournaments turned out.

    You blame Rongen for Freddy Adu’s horrible form? Again, gotta go back to the summer of ’07 when the Freddy Hype Machine started back up again in earnest. He killed it in that tournament. That’s literally the best he’s ever played. Who was the coach? Wait for it…yep, Rongen! And now he’s awful. How is that Rongen’s fault, again? Please explain.

    You blame him for Subotic switching “nationalities”? Do you mean national teams? True, perhaps his exclusion in the 2007 team contributed to Subotic’s decision to play for Serbia. But I would bet heavily that factors like actually being born there to parents who are from there had something to do with it as well. There’s also the fact that Serbia has a better national team than we do. Those things don’t matter to you, though. It’s all Rongen’s fault.

    As for the discussion of whether Danny Cruz has any sort of ability, can we please end it? He doesn’t. It’s literally impossible to develop proper technique if you start playing the game at the age Cruz did. He’s a wonderful athlete, but to think that he has any sort of national team future beyond the three games the US plays in this tournament is silly.

    Apologies for the long post. I’m not even a Rongen fan, necessarily. You just spouted some of the most ridiculous s**t i’ve ever read on this website (and believe me, this site is full of ridiculous s**t, top to bottom), I felt compelled to respond the way I did.


  • Scott A

    jig, Mike Caramba used Dax McCarty–a professional–as an example of Rongen having a preference for college players over professionals. You seemed to think that he was saying that McCarty’s appearances in any form were unwarranted and that he’s not quality. I believe he was saying that he should have been starting instead of coming in as a substitute. Just clarifying


  • cam000

    Someone suggested Ownby and Powers don’t belong on the squad. If that is the case – who is in their place? As I recall (but couldn’t find match details) Ownby was man of the match in one of the lead up games/tournaments and tallied once or twice. He’s also been on the squad all along. Did he have his best game – probably not but, saying he or another guy doesn’t deserve a spot is at best harsh but most likely misinformed.


  • Mike Caramba

    @jig – Your point about the Germans is well taken. I shouldn’t have even brought it up.

    But your response to my Dax argument shows you missed the point entirely. I’m not questioning Dax’s abilities. I’m not suggesting he played poorly in the tourney. I’m simply saying that if a coach makes the same sub repeatedly, regardless of the scoreline, opponent, the run of play, etc., it leads me to believe that he went into those games planning on making that sub. This means he’s not managing the game. Every coach has prefered subs, and I’m familiar with the concept of the super sub, but when these players enter and for whom they enter is largely dependent on circumstance (i.e. they aren’t entering in the 58-68th minute of every game).

    Even if you write this Dax thing off as a big coincidence (he just happened to be needed at the same time most games), that still leaves several points. I understand that college soccer is necessary in this country, but I have a hard time believing a kid starting for Maryland is better off than a kid training with a professional club in Europe. The fact that Rongen has insisted on running his 4-5-1 (erm…4-3-3, sorry) since he’s taken over the U20s leads me to believe he’s trying to fit players into his formation/tactics rather than molding his formation/tactics around the players he has available to him. He has a poor club track record. He rarely makes game-changing subs, but instead opts for position-for-position (with the obvious exception of way-too-late attacking subs when we’re losing).

    I understand what you’re saying, Jig–a lot of Rongen hatred is the product of unrealistic expectations–but I don’t think I fall into this category. I’m not upset because we lost 3-0 to Germany. I’m upset because no matter how poor the American youth are, it’s important that they’re trained and managed well in Bradenton/international competition. I think we could do far better than Rongen.

    “I’m gonna go ahead and assume he has much more sense of who to sub and when to sub them than the average idiot sitting at home posting comments on Soccer By Ives, playing FIFA and eating potato chips.”

    Was that really necessary? Despite your weak disclaimer at the end, it is still an unwarranted low blow. I think my points are coherent, reasonable, and valid, even if you disagree with them.


  • Jeff


    can u shed some more light on the MLS MVP voting process? Who votes, what are the percentages, etc?

    Also I completely agree with your pick of Joseph…he is a player that has clearly never gotten the spotlight he probably truly deserves either in Europe or if he was eligible to represent the US — It would be a great feather for his cap…but what do you truly believe are the odds that he will win?


  • madmax

    @jig, “You blame him for Subotic switching “nationalities”? Do you mean national teams? True, perhaps his exclusion in the 2007 team contributed to Subotic’s decision to play for Serbia…”

    Do you understand that Rongen rated 4 very mediocre defenders above Nevin in 2007? As a youth coach his job is to evaluate young talent. He can’t do his job.


  • Matt

    Rongen is not good. plain and simple. He was a bad player when he played for the diplomats,he has been a poor coach at the professional level. His one championship was with a team he did not construct and when given the chance to influence the team in DC he made them worse. His tactics do not match his players ability or apparent personality. In the case of the u-20’s he did a horrible job in Canada with a very talented group. He has had two years to get ready for three games. Game 1; 3-0 loss. Not good enough.


  • Revs fan

    Without De Rosario, TFC still has Guevara, and now De Guzman. Without Shalrie, the Revs are the Red Bulls.


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